… in the year 1781. I had received a letter from M. de Marbois, of the French legation in Philadelphia … addressing to me a number of queries relative to the state of Virginia. I had always made it a practice whenever an opportunity occurred of obtaining any information of our country, which might be of use to me in any station public or private, to commit it to writing. These memoranda were on loose papers, bundled up without order, and difficult of recurrence when I had occasion for a particular one. I thought this a good occasion to embody their substance, which I did in the order of Mr. Marbois’ queries, so as to answer his wish and to arrange them for my own use … On my arrival at Paris I found it could be done [printed in book form] for a fourth of what I had been asked here [in America]. I therefore corrected and enlarged them, and had 200. copies printed, under the title of Notes on Virginia.
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders kill at least two birds with one stone.
Over the years, Jefferson collected a great quantity of material about his native Virginia, unorganized and difficult to access. This French inquiry gave him the opportunity to both gratify the request and bring order to his mess. The result was the only book Jefferson completed, Notes on Virginia. It came to be regarded as an authoritative scientific source, a third bird.
Primarily a compilation of natural history of Virginia, Jefferson answered 23 “Queries” on these topics: 1. Boundaries, 2. Rivers, 3. Sea Ports, 4. Mountains, 5. Cascades, 6. Productions, 7. Climate, 8. Population, 9. Military force, 10. Marine force, 11. Aborigines, 12. Counties and towns, 13. Constitution, 14. Laws, 15. Colleges, buildings and roads, 16. Proceedings as to Tories, 17. Religion, 18. Manners, 19. Manufactures, 20. Subjects of commerce, 21. Weights, Measures and Money, 22. Public revenue and expences, 23. Histories, memorials, and state papers